- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2006

John Payne and Linda Mellgren have been married for 25 years, Phyllis Sheerin Ross and Earl Ross for 45 years, and Dr. Murray Grant and Trudy Grant for 55 years. Together, that’s 125 years of marriage.

In their years, these couples have logged many moves, children, job changes, illnesses and disagreements and yet they’re still together. How did they do it? Why didn’t they bail when the going got tough?

They all agree that shared interests and values as well as a deep friendship and commitment are important components.

“We both love to dance, and we love classical music,” said Mrs. Grant. The Grants, who live in a Silver Spring 55-plus community, have five children ages 43 to 52.

Dr. Grant said the shared music interest runs deep.

“Even when I met her — and she had no money — two of her very few possessions were classical music records,” said Dr. Grant, a semi-retired physician. “I knew then she was the one for me.”

To any observer, though, the Grants do something — maybe naturally, maybe intentionally — that relationship researchers say is at the core of marriage happiness. They communicate in a positive way toward and about each other. Not a minute goes by without one of them complimenting the other.

“My favorite restaurant is right here, my favorite food is right here,” Mr. Grant said of his wife’s cooking.

The next minute, Mrs. Grant sings the praises of her husband’s athleticism.

“He plays tennis two times a day, and he plays soccer several times a week.”

Ms. Mellgren, who met her husband John Payne at their Episcopal church in Capitol Hill, said shared values are very important to both her and her husband.

“The faith community obviously is very important to us,” she said. “Our work there is what brought us together.”

They sing in the choir, have served on the vestry and been in charge of outreach efforts, such as making lunches for the homeless. A few weeks ago, they celebrated their 25th anniversary in the church kitchen — serving cake on paper plates — together with other choir members.

“It made sense to us. It’s where we met,” Ms. Mellgren said.

They also talk about the importance of respecting the other spouse’s time and space and to manage expectations.

“If you look at the marriage realistically instead of a fairy tale, you start building a strong, lasting friendship,” Ms. Mellgren said.

In terms of spending time together, Mr. Payne said the self-described workaholic couple has not subscribed to the recommendations of always scheduling “date night” and spending up to 12 to 15 hours a week together.

“We might collapse together on a Friday night,” Mr. Payne said.

Mrs. Sheerin Ross of Silver Spring said she doesn’t think a marriage can work if the spouses put equal effort and priority on both their jobs.

“I think someone’s career has to be primary,” said Mrs. Sheerin Ross, who worked part time while her sons were young, while her husband worked full time. “Any opportunity for a promotion that came along, I turned down. That was my commitment to the family, to the marriage.”

Mrs. Grant agreed that there has to be a give and take and that spouses can’t get too caught up in tit for tat — if I do the dishes on Monday, you have to do them on Tuesday.

“That just doesn’t work,” Mrs. Grant said. “Sometime you give a little more.”

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